"Satanism is rampant in London today. It's generally acknowledged in certain circles that the so-called swinging city is a hotbed of Devil worship and such practices—just ask the police…" Christopher Lee during the making of The Devil Rides Out.
While visiting their wayward young protege Simon (Patrick Mower), the Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) and Rex van Ryn (Leon Greene), discover that Simon has fallen under the influence of a coven of Satanists lead by the powerful Mocata (Charles Gray).
When Simon disappears Richleau and Rex use a young initiate of Mocata's named Tanith (Nike Arrighti), to try and track Simon down. The clock is ticking because both Tanith and Simon are to be baptized by Mocata at a Black Mass that evening under the watchful eye of Satan himself. Moving quickly, Richleau and Rex crash the ceremony. Freeing their two friends in a daring and dangerous fashion, they retreat to the country estate of their comrades, the Eaton's.
Thus begins a battle of wills between the forces of good and evil, with all of their very souls hanging in the balance.
To protect his friends from Mocata, Richleau builds a pentacle on the floor of the Eaton's library. Having to remain within the pentacle in order to be guarded against the evil that Mocata has unleashed, they are assaulted by various spirits and visions. The attack is culminated by a visit from the Angel of Death, who once called to Earth must return with a life, in this case that life is of the girl, Tanith.
Unwilling to accept defeat, Mocata kidnaps the Eaton's young daughter, Peggy (Rosalyn Landor), who he plans to sacrifice. With the life of young Peggy and the immortal soul of Simon on the line, will Richleau be able to best Mocata and his evil minions once more? Will good prevail or will darkness carry the day? See The Devil Rides Out to find out.
Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley, The Devil Rides Out was the first of three novels by Wheatley that Hammer Studios would adapt for the silver screen.
The Devil Rides Out was written in 1934 and marked the introduction of Wheatley's black magic adventures featuring the wealthy Duc de Richleau. The book itself was met with great popular success in Great Britain where it was often compared to Bram Stoker's "Dracula."
At the suggestion of Christopher Lee, Hammer executives optioned the novel and it went into production in August of 1967. Hammer pulled out all the stops for this production, bringing in their best director, Terrence Fisher (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Brides of Dracula, The Mummy) and having A-list fantasy/science fiction writer Richard Matheson (The Legend of Hell House, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Duel and the classic novel, "I Am Legend") pen the screenplay. Together with Hammer's resident master of light and shadow, cinematographer Arthur Grant, as well Composer James Bernard, the team would go on to produce one of Hammer's shining moments.
The movie is also notable for a couple of reasons. First of all, following the slight relaxation of the government censors, it was one of the first movies to ever deal with black magic and the dark arts in a serious, thoughtful and entertaining way. Secondly it was one of the only Hammer movies where Christopher Lee (Sleepy Hollow, Serial, The Man With The Golden Gun), fought the good fight on the side of the angels. It is such an unfamiliar sight that it took this regular Hammer watcher awhile to get used to. To be fair, Lee is really quite good. He projects a cool aristocratic arrogance as well as a steely resolve to his portrayal of the heroic Duc de Richleau. Aware of what is going on around him and knowing how to fight it, Richleau is the perfect leader to galvanize his ragtag group of evil fighters.
Richleau's nemesis, Mocata is played with an equal sense of coolness by Charles Gray (You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Ever the proper English gentleman, Gray gives the film a quiet feeling of menace and dread. One of the movie's highlights is where Mocata simply walks into the Eaton's house and uses his strong power of mind control to take over the will of Marie Eaton (Sarah Lawson), causing her to tell Mocata everything he wishes to know. It is a chilling sequence that is well played by Gray and directed with great style by Fisher.
If you look at Matheson's screenplay, the plot is set up with the two leads acting as different versions of Dracula and Van Helsing or even Holmes and Moriarty. Both are equals but both are opposites. The film picks up much of its strength because both Lee and Gray play those roles so well. Gray easily conveys a quiet, powerful and lurking evil. While Lee has the reserve and the humanity of a man who really could battle the devil himself and emerge victorious.
For the period, production values on The Devil Rides Out are pretty strong. There are several sequences that would certainly benefit from today's CGI software but overall the film still looks pretty good. As one of the crown jewels of Hammer Studios, Anchor Bay has rolled out the red carpet for The Devil Rides Out.
Framed in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and given a brand new anamorphic transfer, the picture on The Devil Rides Out is nothing short of amazing. The print used was in remarkable shape as there are very few noticeable flaws or deficiencies. Colors are well rendered, with contrast being very strong but never so powerful that the picture becomes over enhanced. Flesh tones have a pleasant look to them and black levels have a great depth and detail. Pixel breakup or shimmer was never noticed with this transfer being one of the strongest from Anchor Bay for one of their Hammer Collection releases yet.
Anchor Bay continues this red carpet treatment with the movie being given a new 5.1 remix. The mix is front loaded as is to be expected considering the mono source material but the surrounds are pretty active. The mix creates a great sense of atmosphere with the sound having a very pleasant warmth and bloom to it. The dialogue, James Bernard's wonderful score and special effects are all well integrated to form a great sounding whole. The soundtrack has also been cleaned up nicely as background distortion and hiss are held to a bare minimum. Also in a nice sign of things to come, there is an alternate language track included with the disc. The track is decent sounding and is of the French mono variety.
As is the norm with Anchor Bay/Hammer Collection releases this release comes with some nice extras. Both the US and UK theatrical trailers are given as is the "World of Hammer" episode entitled Hammer. This is a pretty good overview of Hammer Studios as a whole and as is the case with the best of these promotional spots, I found myself wanting to see more of the films featured.
The highlight of the features is a scene specific commentary with Actors Christopher Lee and Sarah Lawson with the conversation being moderated by Hammer expert and co-author of "The Hammer Story," Marcus Hearn. As is the case with most commentaries that feature Christopher Lee, he dominates the conversation. That Christopher Lee is quite intelligent and erudite is simply sauce for the goose. To his credit though, Hearn contributes a great deal with his seemingly boundless knowledge of Hammer lore and information. Taken as a whole, it is an interesting and informative commentary, well worth the time for any Hammer fan.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Given that Christopher Lee and Charles Gray dominate The Devil Rides Out it is easier to forgive the blandness of the other performers. Outside of Leon Greene as Rex no one is really bad, its just that no one in the movie hit the levels of the film's two stars. Thankfully it does not hold the film back but it does prevent it from being even better than it already is.
While the special effects for the day are quite strong, looked at today in Y2K some appear rather dated. Scenes that should be truly frightening, like the appearance of The Angel of Death, instead come off as simply fake and cheap looking. On the commentary track Mr. Lee says that this is the one big reason he would like to see a remake done making use of all of today's movie magic, that and he feels he is finally the right age to play Duc de Richleau.
As is my normal caution for people who are horror fans and have never seen any Hammer Films, be warned. This is far from a blood and guts slashfest. The horror and suspense is subtle and low key. Also because of the period in which it was produced, the Black Mass which features an orgy, never goes as far as it should have in order to be truly convincing. What you are left with is rather tame by today's standards.
The Devil Rides Out is well written, well directed and in the case of the roles that matter, well acted. At the top of the Hammer Studios mountain of film achievement, this is a must have for any Hammer fan.
First time visitors are well advised to rent first but if you know the rules of Hammer, you know what to expect and the movie delivers on everything that matters.
I'm glad I have this film on my shelf. I once again thank the good people at Anchor Bay for putting all the time and care into every release they put out there, but especially where the Hammer Collection is concerned.
The Devil Rides Out is acquitted of all charges brought before this court. It is this judge's sincere wish that Mr. Lee gets his second shot of bringing this horror classic to the silver screen. My docket appears rather full so I will take the time and dismiss this courtroom. Good day.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary by Christopher Lee
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